Philemon 1:13

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

…whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. Philemon 1:13

The words, “whom I wished to keep,” refer to Onesimus who was Paul’s “own heart.” He had a great desire that he would keep him there with him. However, the verb is in the imperfect tense. As Vincent’s Word Studies notes, “The imperfect tense denotes the desire awakened but arrested.”

In other words, the desire in Paul was stirred to keep Onesimus (as he says) “with me,” but he knew that it would be inappropriate to do so, and so he quieted his desire. It could be translated more understandably as “whom I was wishing to keep with me.” He then explains the reason for it by saying, “that on your behalf he might minister to me.”

The Greek more literally reads, “in your behalf.” In other words, he is hinting that if Philemon were there in person, he would want to tend to Paul in the manner that Onesimus also would have tended to him. As Onesimus was Philemon’s slave, even if he didn’t minister to Paul directly, he would have been happy to appoint Onesimus to fill that role.

Paul is tactfully saying that in returning Onesimus to Philemon, he was doing it out of what was appropriate, even though having him stay would have been something Philemon would have agreed to anyway. He is making it more and more impossible for Philemon to turn down the request which he will make in the verses ahead. And this is especially true because the ministering on Philemon’s behalf for Paul was because he was in “chains for the gospel.”

Paul was a prisoner because of his proclamation of the gospel. It is the gospel which Paul preached to Philemon, and to which Philemon responded. How could he then turn down the request Paul will make when it is exactly the same need that he once had, and which was filled in Paul’s sharing with him the good news? Every single word, including its tense, is being used to relay to Philemon the importance of the matter to Paul, and each word is given to convince him that no other option would be acceptable than the granting of the request which Paul will eventually make.

Life application: There are things that we may desire, but which we are not permitted to have. Paul’s words show us that even though he knew that Philemon would certainly grant what he wished, he could not act on that knowledge without going through the proper process of allowing Philemon to actually make the final decision. In other words, the end does not justify the means. We cannot say, “I knew what the outcome would be, and so I skipped to the end and avoided all the unnecessary steps to save time.” In the end, we are not God, and we may actually have not thought of every possible option. We must do what is right each step of the way.

Lord God, the Bible shows us time and time again that the end does not justify the means. We must follow the proper path in whatever thing we do in order to get to the end of the matter. This can be especially hard when following that path may not get us to the end we feel is best. But this is life, and it is You who have set the moments of our existence. Help us then to live in Your will always, no matter where the proper path takes us. Amen.

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